A strong immune system is the by-product of a nutritionally robust diet, on a consistent basis. Immunity is the body’s natural and first line of defense against harmful pathogens (bacteria, virus and fungi). It is a complete reaction between antigens – antibody; when a foreign particle (antigen) enters the body, it responds by producing antibodies in the blood as a defense mechanism to destroy the antigens. Keeping our immune system well-nourished with ample immune supporting agents through our diet is crucial for our well-being.
Major immune cells in the blood are the lymphocytes (white blood cells), which comprise of T-cells and B-cells, responsible for producing antibodies in the blood that perform the immune function. These immune cells are nourished by naturally occurring plant substances, Phytochemicals (phyto = plant). Phytochemicals are the active compounds derived from plant that help with proper maintenance and functioning of the immune system.
Some examples of the phytochemicals that aid in boosting the immune system are:
- Genistein – a pungent tasting substance that enhances cytokines production (substances secreted by immune cells) from the T-cells which increase the immune response to pathogens. Genistein is an active bio-compound found in Soya beans. Soy products like soy proteins, soy chunks, soy isolates, soy concentrates, soy oil, soy milk, tofu and sauces made of soy are good sources of Genistein that when consumed supports the immune system
- Hesperidin - These compounds enhance the Immunocompetence (response after exposure to antigen) thus providing immediate response to the antigens that invade the body. Hesperidin is found in citrus fruits like Tangerine (orange), sweet lime, lemon, and grape fruit
- Beta- Carotene – These are the active compounds of carotenoids (yellow – orange pigments). They play a vital role in Immuno modulating (stimulating the immune system to attack the antigens). Beta – Carotenes are found in yellow – orange fruits like carrots, papaya, ripe mango, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, red – yellow bell peppers and green vegetables like kale, spinach and lettuce
- Gingerol –They are a class of phytochemicals that are an efficient remedy for cold and flu symptoms. They work by warming up the body from inside. Due to this warming effect, it’s effective as anti-viral agent. It is found in fresh and dry ginger root
- Curcumin –Active compounds of turmeric, Curcumin acts by suppressing the T – cells apoptosis (cellular suicide). They boost the activity of compound Cathelicidin peptide which is vital for the identification and eradication of pathogens
- Thymol – Thymol is effective in lowering the virulence (severity) of the pathogen causing the disease. It supports the immune system by increasing the levels of antibodies IgG and IgM - which fight against the pathogen. Honey is a natural source of pure thymol; the anti-microbial nature of honey helps strengthen the speed of immune response over time
- Quercetin – It is a flavoring compound known to decrease the cytokines that are responsible for allergic reactions. They are found in onions, green tea, apples, berries like strawberries, blueberries, black berries, grapes etc.
Prebiotics – Prebiotics are not a classification of phytochemicals, but are a class of indigestible fibers which are essential for the growth and nourishment of the gut micro flora (micro –organisms in the intestine). These good bacteria are useful for digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food. They also prevent the growth of other harmful pathogens by inhibiting their adhesion and growth within the gut. Prebiotics are found in foods such as:
- Roots - chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, konjac, burdock, yacona and jicama roots
- Whole grains - oats, barley and wheat bran
- Tubers – onions and garlic
- Green leafy veggies – leeks, asparagus and dandelion greens
- Fruits – apples and bananas
Nature has bestowed us with power – packed foods that when consumed in right quantities will support our overall well-being. The different varieties of phytochemicals found in a range of naturally occurring foods and the probiotics are an excellent resource for replenishing and maintaining the body’s defense mechanism. With the ever growing host of pathogens in our lives, developing and sustaining a robust immune system is vital for surviving and living a healthy life.